We’re now quite a few years removed from Ari Folman’s critically hyped festival and awards season run for his animated documentary Waltz With Bashir — 13 years removed, in fact, during which time the director has gotten to make very little. Follow-up feature The Congress came out not so long after, but while its massive, bold live action-animation hybrid approach to reworking Stanislaw Lem got it some decent critical attention and Cannes play, the film ultimately got a poorly marketed U.S. theatrical rollout from Drafthouse Films, which killed its momentum. It’s not unfeasible that this is responsible for Folman’s considerable time away from director’s chair, his newest film having had its premiere at this past Cannes Film Festival, eight full years after The Congress.
Scaling down his ambitions significantly, Folman’s return to filmmaking finds him zesting up the Anne Frank story for a contemporary tween audience. Coming back to animation once again, and employing an aesthetic not dissimilar from what he chose for his last two features, Where Is Anne Frank (strangely un-question marked) weaves together a magical realist allegory that attempts to reconsider The Diary of a Young Girl in light of Europe’s current refugee crises and the racism and xenophobia that fuel it. This parallel reveals itself rather immediately to Kitty, Where Is Anne Frank’s protagonist and, yes, the imaginary friend Anne Frank addressed her diary to. Brought to life in modern day Amsterdam, Kitty finds that her existence is directly tethered to the original copy of the famous diary, on display at The Anne Frank House where she finds herself trapped. Eventually breaking out of the museum with diary in hand, Kitty makes her way through the city in an attempt to understand what became of Anne Frank, and along the way finds herself pursued by police and aiding an unhoused family of refugees. Pretty squarely aimed at eight- to ten-year-olds, it’s hard to imagine Where Is Anne Frank affecting anyone outside that demographic. The film’s consideration of Frank’s legacy is purposeful and timely, but unconvincing, offering condemnations of policing via comparison to Nazis that it ultimately steps back from in favor of a succinct, sunny conclusion. Well-meaning yet pretty disingenuous, Where Is Anne Frank has some broad points to make about the necessity of learning from Frank’s diary instead of allowing it to become an unconsidered museum piece, but it’s scared to offer any genuine ideas of how best to implement these teachings. And as a comeback for Folman, this proves to be a significant disappointment, far from the lofty heights of The Congress. One can only hope this is a necessary step back towards more substantial work.
Published as part of TIFF 2021 — Dispatch 8.